The boy next door

I asked to be taken to the Emergency Department.

To most readers that would not appear very significant. To those who know me though, it is an indication that I must have been seriously concerned about my health.

I have been to ED quite a few times before. I always resist going to hospital until it becomes obvious I can avoid it no more. This time I asked to go well before anyone even suggested it.

Six days previously I had developed a rash on my shoulder. When the resident nurse looked at my shoulder she thought something had bitten me. This seemed hardly likely since I have no opportunity to come in contact with insects at all. We decided to leave it alone for the day and see how it developed.

Another nurse inspected my shoulder later that day. He recommended that we call a locum. I agreed.

At 8 PM the locum arrived. He diagnosed a skin infection and wrote out a prescription for antibiotics. I started the antibiotics that night.

When I finished the last of the antibiotics there had been only a slight improvement in the rash. The nurse on duty had already asked the locum to come and see me. I said I preferred to go to the Emergency Department (ED).

There was no point in having another course of antibiotics prescribed by the locum. I felt the locum would recommend I go to hospital anyway.

There is very little privacy in ED. You are in a reasonably small cubicle. The only thing separating you from the cubicles on either side are curtains. Unfortunately you hear, in intimate detail, what brought the people on either side of you to ED.

Yesterday there was a boy next door to me. He was 15 years of age. He was there because he had overdosed on what was suspected to be over-the-counter pain medication.

For 20 minutes the doctor next door did all the talking. He was trying to find out exactly how much medication the boy had taken. He coaxed, cajoled, he explained the seriousness of the situation to the boy. All without any success.

Three burly men arrived. Dressed in uniform, they were security officers. The doctor required a blood sample. The boy next door was not going to give it willingly. He struggled violently. After a while one of the security man disappeared. He returned minutes later with something to restrain the boy.

Four or five medical people milled around outside the cubicle, ready to help if needed. The boy’s mother arrived. She was clearly distraught.

The three security men emerged from the boy’s cubicle. One was distressed. He was consoled by another one of the security men. He was overwhelmed from physically restraining one so young. Maybe he was a father himself. Maybe he had a son at home the same age.

The boy’s mother went in to see him. She sought answers. She asked him if he had taken anything when he stayed over at (and she mentioned the person’s name) last night. His answers were now abusive, evasive. She asked him directly. Had he taken ice last night? More abuse.

There were more details about their family life. It was not pretty. It was a tragic story. The boy had apparently been introduced to drugs by his father. The boy was autistic and struggled at school.

This was not his first attempt at suicide.

My wife and I were unwilling listeners. We chatted about nothing much in particular to try not to listen. To hear one so young in such a state of despair was agonising.

I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am. Right now my body is smashed. There are lots of things I want to do but, for the time being, can’t. I have had bad days. I have had some shocking days. But I still have a spark, the thing that pulls me through those bad days. Of course, I also have three people in my life that fan my spark.

The boy next door had lost his spark. His family life and circumstances had extinguished his spark. For him there was no hope, no future. At least, in his mind there was no hope, no future. The spark was still there for him. He needed help to find it again.

Meanwhile, the purpose of my visit to ED was to find out about this mysterious rash on my shoulder. The doctor had a good look at it. The nurse took blood for testing. There were consultations with the specialist spinal unit in the hospital.

The net result? Well, there was a list of things that it wasn’t. But as for what it actually was, it was not possible to say at this point. It would be a matter of wait, watch and see.

I returned home, sore and sorry from my time on the hospital trolley. All I knew was that antibiotics were not the solution to this particular problem.

Still, I could not help thinking about the boy next door… the boy who lost his spark.

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One thought on “The boy next door

  • Kate Thwaites
    06/04/2018 at 9:10 am
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    thanks for this intimate view into your cubicle neighbors world. attempted suicide and near misses are tradgedies that on review may offer opportunities to support someone differently. i hope someone made it through to this young man who feels such pain. there are a number of great websites including beyond blue and others who post pre post and after support education on what may be helpful. we do know young and single older males are increased risk groups – lifeline suicide line kids help line are also good resources
    thanks for the opportunity to discuss Gerard

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